Saturday, December 02, 2006

Year End Liquidation

Sat Dish SkyIn the grand tradition of TV in December, I'm breaking out the retrospectives. While I have to save the smarmy wrap-ups and obituary montages until after Christmas, I can share with you the very finest in residual imagery. That's right, reheated leftovers from my Flickr account...

Kitty TripHey, ever tranquilized a lion and stuffed him in a minivan, all in a hundred percent humidity? I haven't either - but I did hover over a sweaty group of good hearted souls who enacted that very slow-motion mission one sweltering July day. Some scenarios cannot be rushed and man-hauling a catatonic apex predator is one of them. By the time the big cat was was stuffed and cuffed in a jumpy vet's backroom, I wasn't sure what was worse - enduring the ungodly heat or smelling what Mufasa had for breakfast. Warthog and Meerkat, I think.

Gear StashAs much as I like to feign existentialism, I'm really just a guy who drives around with tools in his truck. With that in mind, you'll understand how nothing is more sacred (or guarded) than a shooter's arsenal, pictured here in all its new/antique, dead battery, color-coded glory

The KingHalloween was the farthest thing from my mind when I blew into Madison, North Carolina on Ocotober 31st. So you can imagine when my surprise when seemingly every citizen of the tiny Rockingham County town turned out to meet me - in disguise, no less. Sure the DA candidate I'd come to interview said something about an annual trick or treat event downtown, but I knew the pimps, vampires and zombies were there just to screw with my head. On the way out of town, I couldn't help but grab a snapshot of this Elvis worshiper - in hopes he'd stop following me. When I got back and really looked at the shot, I realized the dude really wasn't in costume. To him, it was just Tuesday.

Rig and RideSpeaking of days of the week, all mine kind of blur together. But that's bound to happen when you spend all your time racing from unplanned calamity to scheduled event. After a while all those tireless stops seem the same, whether they center around chalk body outlines or golden shovels.

Idol CrewLadies and Gentlemen, I give you Lenny and Squiggy. Okay that's probably not their names, but in my mind they will always share the monikers of Laverne and Shirley's skeevy neighbors. This particular shot comes from outside the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, hours before Taylor Hicks reached full American Idol ascension. Tall and Skinny I don't know so well, but Short and Swarthy I recognized from all those Idol audition shoots. Dude's probably shot more delusional humans than Bob Barker's floor crew. Think of him the next time some hysterical pair of glitter twins is bouncing off Ryan Seachrest and your TV screen. Hope he gets combat pay...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Roadside Snowgasm

No, snow didn't blanket the Tarheel State, but it did pummel the Midwest, where photog-blogger CJ broke out her new camera and captured her toothy co-workers in action. The result is a delightful series of images in which her fellow broadcast-nauts frolic, hurl snowballs and file breathless live reports from beneath their logo'd parkas. Here in the Piedmont of course, we'd also advise viewers to construct temporary shelter, stock-pile weapons and scavenge every bread aisle within ten square miles of their homes.Call us alarmists if you will, but zoom in on a few southern fried soccer moms as they gun their SUV's over icy overpasses - and you'd spread a little panic too.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Attack of the Show Stacker

Dork at Large
Longtime readers of this blog (shouldn't there be a support group for you people?) may recall my lamenting the loss of one Mark Grzybowski, the veteran show producer who left the biz back in 2005 to pursue his dream of slum lordship. Well, he's back and I for one couldn't be giddier. Why? He cracks me up - be it his patent sarcasm or his inexplicable contention that Tears for Fears is the greatest band ever. Most of all, I dig his mojo. He almost never loses his cool (and let me tell you, the guy radiates cool), always tucks in his shirttail and steadily deflects the poisonous barbs of your somewhat surly lenslinger. For that alone, he ranks at the top of my list of Favorite Producers Ever (which in all fairness, is a v-e-r-y short list). So join me in welcoming this lifer-in-disguise back to The Suck. Just cut him some slack, wouldya? Dude has to put up with me everyday. If you think I can bellyache on-line, you oughta catch me at the water cooler sometime...It ain't pretty.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fish Wrap Video

As a TV news photographer who fancies himself something of a writer, I’m naturally infatuated with the newspaper industry. Too bad the feeling isn’t returned. Ever since the first local broadcaster rose up from the primordial ooze, newspaper folk have heaped endless derision on what they clearly view as a lesser journalistic species. ‘Shallow‘, ‘superficial’ and a few other ’S’ words are the usual slurs. Many times of course, we’ve more than earned those taunts. What with our penchant for hyperbole, our infatuation with talking hair-do‘s and our garish, swooping graphics - it’s no mystery why those in the print realm consider us so inferior. Of course, we in TV have our own opinions of our cross-town rivals, but I can honestly report the distaste isn’t nearly as fervid. Still, we rarely mix. Instead we resign ourselves to long-held prejudices and segregate ourselves into vastly different disciplines. Until now.

You see, newspapers are dying. With readership diminishing and new consumers flocking to on-line information sources, many in print are having to reconsider age old tactics. (To be fair, we TV geeks are also embroiled in upheaval. Participatory media and the twin tubes of the internets are rewriting the rules for everyone in the game - not just those goobs at the local paper.) At the recent ConvergeSouth conference, I sat in on a gathering of very educated print folk as they almost gnashed each other to pieces over the dire state of their medium. It was like watching a flock of piranha turn on each other for lack of suitable prey. At least that’s how it appeared to this TV simpleton and being such, I kept my own mouth shut. When I was called on, I suggested the crowd forgo the infighting and embrace - gasp! - video. Cue the crickets.

Of course, many newspaper websites have done just that, long before I feebly suggested my own brand of heresy. These days, a simple Google search will uncover countless newspaper sites doing new and exciting things with the moving image. But what exactly this new version of video news will look like is a subject of great debate. Long form analysis, hometown quirk, nat sound operas - you can do as many different things with a video camera as you can a ball point pen. Wisely, many in print are urging their fellow scribes to forge a new medium onto itself: a brand of video storytelling vastly different from the shrill thundering of the nightly newscast. But in rallying their masses, some newspaper people prove once and for all that we in TV hold no patent on myopic arrogance:
"It’s my personal bias of course, but I think newspaper journalists naturally produce better video stories than TV. Newspaper reporters begin with two advantages — no preconceived notions about time limits, and no preconceived notions about hyping up the story — they are more likely to let the story tell itself and edit it for interest, not time."
Bold words from an industry hemorrhaging market share. Honestly, I wish them all the luck in the world, for the amalgamation of our two mediums would greatly improve the information stream - and where better to showcase it than on-line? Trouble is, too many in the print realm dismiss local TV efforts as entirely without merit. They gleefully point to the lowest common denominators, the “Killer Dust-Bunnies Hiding Under Your Child’s Bed” series-piece syndrome. Granted, the worst of my lot is guilty of such tripe, but I for one don’t deal in this bottom-feeding and neither do those who share my logo. Print folk would do themselves a huge favor by putting aside their contempt and taking a long hard look at the very best of broadcast news, starting with the NPPA reels readily available on-line. Perhaps TV news isn’t the pristine verbiage currently rotting in my driveway, but neither is it graffiti. Come to grips with that and you just may have a future in moving pictures. Otherwise, I’ll see you at the revolution.

I’ll be the one eating your lunch.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Book Review: Thunderstruck

Ocean travel, emerging media and a salacious murder - three favored themes that have kept me hooked on Thunderstruck since I first laid down cabbage for the hardback. 392 pages later, I'm still glad I did. Why? Because Erik Larson has a knack for exposing the underbelly of history's most seminal moments. He first nailed the formula with Isaac's Storm, then nearly did it again in The Devil in the White City (which I always contended needed a little more Devil and a little less White City). Apparently Larson got my memo, because Thunderstruck is a leaner, meaner weave of global achievement and gutter subterfuge.

The year is 1910 and Guglielmo Marconi's burgeoning wireless technology is anything but a bonafide success. Dogged by rivals, haunted by setbacks and mired in his own self-absorption, the Italian upstart seeks to rule the ether of the Edwardian Age. But despite possessing a technology that strikes many as nothing less than supernatural, Marconi just can't seem to wrangle the imagination of a most fickle public. Enter Dr. Hawley Crippen (and his cross-dressing lover), a most unlikely pair of fugitives whose encounter with a swaggering sea captain and a seemingly magic series of dials and antenna suddenly holds both sides of the Atlantic enthralled. In what could be described as a turn of the century slow speed pursuit, Crippen's capture crystallizes Marconi's strange new invention as a true tool of upheaval, one that could not only send dits and dots across the ocean, but could imprison a killer in thin air.

(3 of 4 Stars.)

Weatherman On the Lam!

Charles 'Elwood Blues' Ewing
If seventeen years in local television has taught me anything, it's Never Let a Weekend Weatherman Drive a Police Car. Those dudes may understand low pressure systems, but they don't know squat about your average PIT maneuver. You're w-a-y better off with the Sports Guys: they'll barrell through a roadblock for a few locker room soundbites and a press pass. Throw in a souvenir lanyard or a free buffet and they'll damn near take a hostage...

Monday, November 27, 2006

All Scenes Considered

Broadcast News - it’s the ultimate team sport. Too bad only a few of the players are visible from the cheap seats. Still, you can spot the craftwork of countless others, if only you’ll remember...
For every perky young morning reporter leading a lens through a carnival funhouse, there is a cramping photog nearby who’s pretty sure his kneecaps will explode before the anchors in his earpiece ever stop chortling over his shot.

For every man on the street interview seen pouring into your living room, a half dozen other citizens were queried, many of whom declined the on camera portion of the interview but insisted on sharing their extended views on the matter anyway.

For every series piece that opens with a flashy montage, there is a red-eyed editor who still wonders if he should have shaved off a few frames in the middle, reworked the beginning or just ended the damn thing on a cross-fade dissolve.

For every quick encapsulation of an overnight crime, there is a smug desk jockey nearby, who uncovered the morsel during her frenzied ritual of morning ‘beat checks’ - otherwise known as the Dewey Decimal System of newsrooms everywhere.

For every sudden loss of audio during a live shot, there is a control room full of irritated technicians, an engineer peering over his eyeglasses at a nearby screen and one photog who really wished he had replaced those cursed 9 volts back when he first thought about it.

For every shimmering backlight feathering the anchor team’s glossy silhouette, there at least a couple of pale studio goobs with shadowing acumeninfinite Hobbit knowledge who spent more time than you would tweaking squeaky barn-doors from atop a wobbly step-ladder.

For every effortless live remote involving multiple microphones, there is a harried audiophile on scene who, given enough time, thinks he could improve upon G-n-R’s Appetite for Destruction using only duct tape, clothes pins and the rattiest of Sure Mixers.

For every newscast that ends on time, there is a show producer somewhere, crumpling up script paper and pushing the last eight hours of detail-wrangling, hand-holding, and ego-stroking out of her mind, lest she refuse to come back tomorrow and do it all over again.
By the way, if you see said newscast-stacker carrying a box full of desktop possessions to her Camry - let us know, wouldya? The show must go on.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Amazing Pace

I’m crazy about The Amazing Race: the mad dash travel, the oddball obstacles, the way the editors make booking airline tickets feel like edge of your seat cliffhanger theater. I also dig the incredibly athletic camerawork on display, courtesy of one Bertam Van Munster, early architect of the COPS shooting style (or lack thereof) and a guy who knows written the book on following the action. Yes, The Amazing Race is by far my favorite reality show, a sped-up, real world version of Survivor in which absolutely no one lies on a tropical beach and flexes their triceps. In fact, I love this show - even if it does remind me of work.

You heard me: work. Take away the Kiwi host, the world travel, and any chance of a million dollar pay-off at the end and you got my job in a nutshell. Why every morning I receive an improbable task with intense time-restrictions, forcing me to race from place to place with a rotating cast of (not always) friendly competitors nipping at my heels. Like the show, road conditions vary wildly; from the steep gravel driveway of an accused murderer’s trailer park to the gilded elevator of some lofty corporate headquarters, my gig can take me anywhere - and almost always in a hurry.

Trouble is, I’ve become accustomed to the pace. So used to ringing people up and announcing my camera and I were on our way, I’m truly taken aback when someone won’t drop everything and entertain my lens. Of course nine times out of then they will, which only encourages me to scramble from one deadline to another with barely my manners in place. But who can take time to be all Southern and polite when flashes of sworn rivals are shimmering in the distance - well-equipped crews giddy with the very thought of your potential downfall. No, I’ve yet to race chariots on the outskirts of Morocco, but I’ve hung from salt trucks while the plowed frozen interstates, backpedaled down stair wells as flash-bangs exploded and faked out opponents in courtroom hallways. There may be no grinning host with a million dollar check waiting at the finish line, but hopefully I’ll look back one day and see more than thirty years of meaningless Lightning Round.

In the meantime, a consolation prize or two wouldn‘t hurt.